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Wind propulsion a realistic choice toward decarbonisation

Wind propulsion a realistic choice toward decarbonisation

In an exclusive interview with SAFETY4SEA, Mr. Gavin Allwright, Secretary of the International Windship Association (IWSA), mentions that industry has realized wind propulsion is a realistic choice for a more sustainable future and refers to the existing


Although the viability of these installations is starting to be proved, there are still barriers for the industry to overcome with perception being on top of these.  Nonetheless, the industry is setting the ground to adopt more wind propulsion installations; namely the aim of IWSA since its foundation in 2014 has been toward that end. After explaining how industry can embrace decarbonisation, Mr Allwright concludes that we need to change mindset and think about the long term. In this context, industry should advocate for clear regulatory framework, new technologies, alternative fuel development and a more standardized circular economy approach.

SAFETY4SEA: What should be the top priorities for the shipping industry stakeholders towards a more sustainable future for the shipping industry?

Gavin Allwright: Sustainability is often used very narrowly in the industry to mean, ‘will I still be in business next month, next year or in 2023’, rather than looking at the triple bottom line of social, environmental and economic benefits. That is understandable; however it has also led the industry down the efficiency pathway without much of a focus on resilience. The ships we are designing and building today will be operating in a net zero-emissions world by the end of their lifetime, meaning that every ton emitted will need to be offset or paid for.

So what are the top priorities to make the industry more efficient and resilient? First and foremost, the largest cost in shipping is fuel, the supply and price are volatile and will increasingly be regulated, therefore the search for a low-cost, low-carbon, compliant and viable solution to this problem is top priority. Our members are delivering an important option for the technology toolbox; wind propulsion can deliver between 10-30% fuel savings retrofit and up to 50% for optimized new builds, meaning a renewable energy source, free and abundant delivery at the point of use.

If we link this to a circular economy focus, increased investment in technology innovation in general and investment in the human resources in the industry, we have a clear set of priorities for sustainable shipping in the future.

S4S: Do you think that the industry is ready for a more low-carbon future? What may be the biggest challenges to prepare?

G.A.: This is a challenging question with different sectors moving in different directions and at varying speeds, but overall the answer would have to be ‘No’ or ‘Not Yet’. Having said that, the foundations and preparations to embrace change are starting to be laid. The biggest challenges will be finding ways to very quickly and deeply cut CO2 emissions while maintaining the profitability of the sector, this has to be in line with a 1.5C global warming target if we are to avoid dramatic impacts and resultant adaptation costs further down the line – therefore the ‘at least’ part of the ‘at least 50%’ reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 outlined in the IMO Initial Strategy in April has to be the main focus going forward.

In the past, the industry has often relied on regulation to produce a perceived level playing field and most companies would be driven by that lowest common denominator. However, while tighter regulation is coming, the challenge is for the commercial operators to move in front of that, decarbonize now using existing technology and fuel options. Industry groups are working on these areas, and last year’s Ambition 1.5C: Global Shipping Action Plan conference showed very clearly that this is not a technology issue; it is a systems issue and an overhaul of how we retrofit and redesign vessels quickly and efficiently is much needed.

The industry is facing huge challenges, but what an exciting time to be in shipping. These challengers are going to be attracting new industry participants, young engineers and other sustainability change advocates, and that disruption in itself will be one of the biggest challenges the industry faces going forward.


S4S: Which are the key drivers and barriers towards investing in wind propulsion projects?

G.A.: There are a number of quite diverse drivers that are generating the current interest in wind propulsion solutions but the key ones are credibility, viability, affordability and the need to make vessels future ready. These are not new, they are the main drivers for all innovation, but we have seen significant changes over the past 12 months around wind as a primary renewable energy source for ship propulsion.

There is an increasing understanding in the industry that wind-assist and primary wind vessels are a credible and realistic choice when it comes to new technology, with class, policy makers, engineers, designers and increasingly commercial shipping companies testing installations. The viability of these installations is starting to be proved, with increasing data and more points of reference allowing for comparison.

Finally, the economics are starting to align, increasing fuel prices, low Sulphur, NOx and carbon regulations on the horizon are pushing up the forecast prices of fuel and thus ROI’s will drop significantly, also leasing or rental options for rigs will lead to a further reduction in CAPEX expenditure.

As for barriers, there are still a number of impactful ones whether these are from the split incentive when it comes to who pays the fuel and who bears the installation cost and there are other market and non-market failures that effect uptake, however the main barrier is perception, and changing that comes down to having more rigs installed on more vessels, demonstrator vessels and market-ready technologies, all of which are starting to come through the pipeline.

S4S: What could be the right environmental and financial incentives to facilitate wind propulsion from your perspective?

G.A.: On financial incentives, it is more a removal of financial barriers, enabling access to funding for innovation, R&D work and the difficult transition from late stage R&D to market-ready. This is an area the industry should support more in a pre-competitive fashion, sharing the benefits of systematic and integrated system developments rather than the current piecemeal approach.

Another area that will be critical in the longer term is a form of carbon levy on marine fuel and we all know that some form of this is coming, but leaving that until 2023 and beyond is a very serious mistake if we are to incentivize all of the first movers and early adopters and support innovative technology companies.

A substantial, annually tightened levy on bunker fuel, based on the hypothecated Norwegian NOx fund model would be good for all low carbon innovation, including wind. This would keep all funds within the industry and strengthen the virtuous circle – we have a model, so let’s use it.

Environmentally, a holistic approach to dealing with the challenge of shipping and the logistics chain that shipping is a single but important link in. This means that we approach the challenges in a systematic way, not transferring pollution from air to water, or from sea to land. It will also entail using the total carbon footprint of a technology or alternative fuel option, not from bunker-to-funnel or factory gate to breaking yard, but well-to-wake and cradle to cradle.

This will mean that there needs to be a truly ‘level playing field’ between renewables and fossil fuels, putting a stop to the externalizing of costs and internalizing profit is a critical change required – the polluter pays and we can clearly compare the total costs involved with every technology decision we make.  Under these conditions, wind propulsion will always be a first stop option, the challenge will be what auxiliary propulsion option do you go for.

S4S: What types of solid developments (i.e. projects completed) have been realized in Europe/ worldwide concerning wind propulsion applications?

G.A.: Wind propulsion developments have started to pick up pace, from early Flettner rotor and kites installations in the 2000’s, we then saw a growth of wind propulsion projects under development and when the fuel price nosedived in 2014-15, the pace of new wind propulsion technologies and development actually increased. This growth precipitated the development of IWSA in late 2014, and we are now seeing the fruit of the last four years of concerted development.

Over the last 12 months we have seen a threefold increase in rotor sail installations, now with six vessels with 14 rotors installed by Norsepower, Anemoi and MariGreen and a number of other projects and installations in the works. More importantly for further growth, these are installation cut across all major segments; bulker (64,000dwt), tanker (109,000dwt), roro, ferry/cruise, general cargo, with some major companies embracing the technology, including Maersk tankers and Viking Lines.

In the cruise sector, along with the rotor sail installation on the Viking Grace, STX France has launched a new line of specialist primary wind propulsion expedition cruise vessels, the largest being the 190m, Silenseas 190, carrying 300 passengers and 80 crew. Peace Boat’s Ecoship design has also been completed for a 2,000 passenger, 55,000t wind-assist vessel and we are awaiting confirmation for the build schedule in a contracted Finnish yard.

In the US, Wind+Wing Technologies have successfully tested their wingsail designs on small catamarans and are moving towards installations on commercial ferries. Solarsailor developed and built a number of small combined solar and hardsail ferries operating in Sydney, Hong Kong and Shanghai harbours.

Other key developments have been seen in the development of rigid sails, MOL and University of Tokyo have completed land trials of their retractable rig and will retrofit in late 2019/2020, Bound4Blue will be retrofitting two newly designed wing sails to vessels at the end of this year.

The large scale dynarig sail system has now been extensively tested on large mega-yachts with the Maltese Falcon (2008) and now the Black Pearl (2017) and work is continuing to adapt these to commercial use.  We are also expecting announcements this year from other hardsail, soft sail and suction wing developers on sea trials, demonstrator vessels and commercial builds.

Last year, a EU commissioned report on the market potential for wind propulsion was released stating,  "In 2030, the market potential could amount to 3,700–10,700 installed systems on bulkers & tankers, associated with approx. 3.5–7.5 Mt CO2 savings…’, this is a sizeable market size and the forecast was made prior to the increase in industry focus on decarbonisation we have seen this year.
S4S: Do you think that the industry is ready for these applications in terms of technology, installation and operation?

G.A.: From a technology standpoint, most of the wind propulsion systems are straightforward and class are involved with the certification of all of the solutions, so this is preparing the industry to adopt wind technology. With installation, it depends upon the scale of the rigs that are chose, in the case of a basic rotor retrofit installation, there is a minimal level of preparation, a base plate is put in place over a couple of days and then the fitting of the actual rotor is a matter of hours along with the rig testing etc.

As for operation, the industry expects a turnkey solution, automated, that is safe, has minimal maintenance and doesn’t require any significant additional training to operate, and modern wind propulsion technologies are being designed to deliver on all of those aspects.

S4S: How your organization may contribute towards sustainability? What are your plans/ incentives / initiatives to move forward?

G.A.: The International Windship Association (IWSA) is a member-driven not-for-profit organization with over 100 technology, design, research, ship building and operator members and registered supporters. Our collective aim is to provide information to the market and policy makers of wind propulsion developments and advocate for the removal of barriers to the development of wind, but also support other low carbon technology and alternative fuel developments.

To strengthen and develop this further, this year we have adopted three tier strategy, firstly we will continue with our successful wind propulsion communication, advocacy, market support and education programs.

Secondly we are continuing to develop our network, functioning as the maritime shipping organization in close cooperation with the World Wind Energy Association (WWEA), we are liaising the IMO & EU MTCC program in the 5 centers around the world and working with industry bodies developing third party verification tools for wind technology uptake. IWSA is also actively engaged with the development of small sail cargo vessel projects through EU Interreg programs.

Thirdly, we’re developing wind propulsion hubs, clustering together wind propulsion technology developers, engineering companies, research institutes, shipping companies, ship builders, etc. to further collaborate and drive project development and the sector as a whole. The first active hub is IWSA Europe Atlantique based in Nantes, with 60+ participants, and this will be followed soon by North Europe, South Pacific, Asia and the US

S4S: If you could change one thing about the shipping industry, what would it be and why?

G.A.: As with any industry there are always areas that need to change, can be optimized or simply discarded, and I have highlighted a few of those in earlier questions, but if I need to select one it would be the creation of a clear, understandable, stable playing field or pathway forward for the industry. Work has been done on this, but we still make decision based on today or tomorrows compliance requirements rather than 2040 or 2050.

That requires clear regulatory framework, pre-competitive investment and support for new technologies and alternative fuel development, a standardized circular economy approach to ship building and breaking, a carbon levy that incentivizes low carbon investment and helps protect first movers.

I fear that without that clear pathway to effectively zero-emissions by 2050 (or before) we will not meet our obligations to deliver on a 2C global warming target, let alone the 1.5C target that we really have to be aiming at.  


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